This post was written by educator and 2020 Education Fellow Dwayne Reed.
As 2020 comes to an end and we educators prepare for a much-needed winter break, I want to communicate that it’s okay to not be okay. It can be #TeacherStrong to share when you are struggling. As a human, and especially as a teacher where so many other humans count on me, it feels like every moment is one where I am fighting to not crumble under the pressure and the extra weight the world has been giving us these last few months. And I know countless other educators who feel the exact same way.
There’s a stigma in education and the world at large that says, “Strong looks a certain way. I have to be stoic. I cannot show any negative emotions.” Even today, I was doing a “would you rather” with my fifth-graders: Would you rather lose the ability to cry or have to cry for 20 minutes randomly each day? One student chose to lose the ability to cry; when I pressed him, he said, “When I go to a funeral, I don’t want to have to cry and embarrass myself.” I encouraged him and said, “Expressing emotion is not expressing weakness. It’s putting your strength on display and showing that you were strong in loving this individual and investing your heart into this person.”
So it’s okay to not be okay. Strength doesn’t mean having it all together. Strength means knowing when it’s okay to say, I don’t have it all together and communicate that to other people so they can help you. As an educator and as a human, I need to let people know when I’m struggling so they can hoist me up and pick me off the ground. It’s okay to have a bad day and to be down. It’s not okay to sit there forever, but it’s okay if, in a moment, I feel everything.
As part of my fellowship with National Geographic Education, I started the #TeacherStrong movement in the spring as a foundation for our new normal. Since then, it’s evolved with the knowledge that everyone has garnered since March. We’ve become more aware of what this pandemic means and the further illumination of the many inequities we see. And because of that, I think what it means to be #TeacherStrong is more refined, too. Back in March, it meant, all right, we’re all going to come together with innovative ideas in light of a new normal and see if we can piece things together. Now we’re at the point where we are putting it into practice. Our hearts were first mended, and now our hands are putting in the work. When we work together and stick together, we are truly #TeacherStrong.
There’s no other thing to do but move forward. Upward and onward. There are days where there are glimmers of hope — hearing about the vaccine. Thinking about some of the accommodations workplaces, schools, or communities are making to help humans exist and live as humans. Hearing about cases dropping in some places. A school district offering their schools a completely asynchronous day. These are little silver linings, little sprinkles of okay. My mom always says, “One foot after the other.” I can’t look a mile down the road, I have to focus on the foot in front of me. That’s what we educators have been called to do during this time. And it’s been hard, but y’all inspire me and keep me going by seeing you do it. I hope to keep doing the same for you.
In the spring, I said, “We’re good. We got this. We’re #TeacherStrong.” As we head into 2021 together, I hope that, if you don’t feel like you’ve got this, you feel empowered to say so. Reach out on the #TeacherStrong hashtag. Let this community of educators help pick you up. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and together, we’ll make it through this.
But first, we all need to take a break this holiday season. Enjoy your time away from the classroom. Focus on your family. Take the rest you need to keep on putting one foot in front of the other when you return to school in January. Just like it’s #TeacherStrong to share when you’re struggling, it’s also #TeacherStrong to take a break and take care of yourself. We all can pick up the fight again in January, but right now, at this moment, let’s embrace the rest we need.
Feature image by Rebecca Hale.